Today is my birthday. Happy 44th to me.
You see, today also marks two years since my father passed away … rather unexpectedly. On that Wednesday morning, I had only been awake for about 20 minutes or so when the phone rang, my brother calling to tell me that my dad had died. He just didn’t wake up that morning.
I don’t want it to matter that my father died on my birthday.
Honestly, I don’t.
Even on the dreadful day he died, I didn’t want it to matter that he passed away on my birthday. After all, my father would have never wanted me to experience any sort of emotional pain over him being called to his eternal home. Getting to meet Jesus face-to-face is a good thing … right?
But even good things hurt sometimes.
My dad used to tell me that after the first week of basketball practice back when I was in junior high.
He was right. A lot of good things hurt … having a baby, getting shots when you are sick, sore muscles after working out, going through physical therapy to recover from an injury, and so on and so forth.
Saying goodbye can be painful too. Especially if it is someone you love. Even if that person gets to go somewhere great. It still hurts the heart.
This gets me right back to where I started: Not wanting it to matter that my dad died on my birthday.
Only right now … today … on this birthday … it still matters.
Jon and I talked a lot this past week about how I feel regarding my birthday. After the second or third such conversation, Jon said, in his matter-of-fact way, “Paige, it is clear to me that you just aren’t done grieving yet. That’s okay. Grief takes time, especially if you love someone. I suggest you should be as gracious to yourself as you would to someone else in your situation.”
Be gracious to myself.
In my grief.
With my hurting heart.
On this birthday when it still matters so very much.
I pondered that Jon’s suggestion and wondered what that would look like.
Last night, Jon and I were talking about my birthday, making details and plans for the day. I have carefully orchestrated my day to ensure I won’t have much time to sit around and dwell on missing my father. Who wants to play the pity party game on their birthday?! Not me!
So we have planned a day trip to visit with my mom and sister in a nearby city. We’ll grab some lunch at a Mexican restaurant (because I am craving guacamole) and then do some shopping (mostly the window variety). I’ve got a little birthday cash, so I am thinking of looking for a new purse … or I might save it so that I can buy the pendant and earrings to match the opal ring Jon bought me for my birthday this year.
I think it’s going to be a good day.
Yet, like I told Jon, I am still struggling inside. I have hard questions that my human heart can’t answer.
Why did my dad have to die so relatively young?
Why didn’t God allow him to see his grandchildren graduate high school, get married and have children?
Why did God let him die on my birthday?
And then I confessed this other thought that has persisted in the back of my mind all week long:
What if something else terrible happens on my birthday?
Allow me a moment to push pause right here and said that I married a great guy. One of the many things I love about Jon is that he doesn’t get upset when I share my thoughts. He just listens and lets me talk through all the emotion. That’s exactly what he did last night.
But when I asked that last question out loud, Jon said, “Sure. You can ask that question, but it is an awful way to think. And it will certainly make you miserable.”
He was quiet for a moment, allowing the heaviness of what he said and the weight of my own emotions to sink in deep.
“Paige, let’s remember what the Bible says about our thinking and how important it is to our own well-being.
What does God want us to think about? Well, He tells us. He said whatever is pure, honorable , just, pure, lovely, commendable, or excellent, we should think on these things.
And why is our thinking so important? Because it is through our thinking that we have our minds renewed. And the renewing of our minds enables us to more fully experience God, to know His will, to see more of His heart.
So, if you change your thinking and quit asking questions that you will never find the answers to, eventually there will be a renewing of your mind and it won’t matter so much anymore. Maybe not this birthday. Perhaps not even the next birthday or two. But trust me, one year it won’t matter nearly as much. Instead, you’ll be able to think about the things that really did matter regarding your father.”
Think on these things.
Experience the renewing of my mind.
Ask what really matters most.
Jon didn’t realize it last night (or maybe he did), but he gave me a place to start, a way to climb out of the hole of self-pity, a little bit of hope that maybe not all my future birthdays will feel so hard.
This is a gift that is better than any opal ring.
So what is it that mattered most about my dad?
Well, he honored and cherished my mother. He adored his children and grandchildren. My dad placed high importance on maintaining good relationships with people. He had a strong work ethic. My father loved to laugh. He enjoyed life and lived right up until the day he died. My dad was my friend as much as he was my father.
All of these things mattered far more than the day he died.
Yet there is one more thing that mattered most of all:
My father loved and knew Jesus Christ.
In the end, this is why I know I can grieve with hope. Because my dad had a relationship with God, the day of his death on earth was also his birthday into heaven. I know that for him, the end was really just the beginning.
So does it really matter that my dad died on my birthday?
Well, sure it matters … but it’s definitely not what matters most.
And today, I am especially grateful for that.
If you like, you can watch this YouTube video I made of some memories of my father.
The music is the Theme from Rudy (The O’Neill Brothers). My dad was a sucker for sentimental movies, and Rudy was one of his favorites.